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Recognizing the signs of dementia | Wear The Gown

Family members often recognize the changes first.

SAN ANTONIO — The number of people with dementia has been rising quickly in recent years. Dementia is a broad term in brain function that can include memory loss and impairment in learning new tasks. Alzheimer's is about 60 to 80% of the different kinds of dementia. 

"There's no specific cause for dementia, but it's a loss of neurons in the brain that conduct signals and the different functions of the brain for for sensory organization, for motor execution and the ability to mix those tasks together," said Dr. Katherine Whiteley who is a family medicine physician with University Health. She says there has been no specific cause for dementia found so far, but poor education may be one. 

Dr. Whiteley added, "Maybe if a person grew up and they maybe only got to second grade, they can't read very well. Maybe they can't write very well. They say that increases risk."  

Some of the risk factors for dementia include poor diet and exercise, excessive alcohol use and smoking, diabetes, poor cardiovascular health, and depression. 

So how do you know if you have dementia? Often by someone else noticing. Dr. Whiteley told us, "The family will notice that maybe they tell their mother to go get dressed and they come check on her 20 minutes later. And she still hasn't gotten dressed. She hasn't even started. Maybe she got distracted and started doing something else."

Noticeable cognitive changes with dementia that are common are memory loss, difficulty communicating, difficulty with visual and spatial abilities, such as getting lost while driving, difficulty reasoning and handling complex tasks, and overall confusion and disorientation.

Depression is also a red flag for dementia, and with increased isolation from the pandemic over the past two years, dementia numbers are on the rise. Dr. Whiteley said, "If an elder is feeling like they're spending a lot of time alone and they're isolated, maybe they watch TV all day, they're not keeping track of the calendar or the news."

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